Marketing the Candidates


Veteran Republican Political Consultant Sees Dukakis-like Vulnerability

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WASHINGTON ( -- While Howard Dean's strategists scramble to recoup from their candidate's "howling" concession speech in Iowa, a veteran Republican political consultant said the event has
Photos: AP
Howard Dean, left, in his Jan. 19 concession speech and Michael Dukakis during his infamous 1988 tank ride.
hobbled the Dean political marketing machine with a "Dukakis-like" vulnerability.

Greg Stevens, the political advertising executive who turned a now-infamous campaign gaff into attack ads during the the senior George Bush's 1988 presidential campaign, suggested that Mr. Dean's Democratic or Republican foes could quickly use the Iowa speech for effective anti-Dean TV ads.

1988 Dukakis debacle
Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential candidate who lost to Bush, made one of history's classic campaign blunders when he boarded an Abrams M1 tank for a photo-op at the General Dynamics plant in Detroit. The event became a political marketing nightmare when images of Mr. Dukakis -- wearing an oversized combat helmet and a goofy, child-like grin -- hit the front pages, setting off widespread criticism of the candidate's attempt to "play soldier." Then Vice President Bush even used the incident to mock Mr. Dukakis in the candidates' first televised debate.

Mr. Dean's Jan. 19 screaming speech is now widely viewed as a gaff of similar proportions.

A yell at the end of Mr. Dean's speech -- described as either a yell, growl or cheer -- came at the end of the Iowa caucus, where Mr. Dean came in fourth after being projected the front-runner by the media. His speech, intended to rouse supporters, instead made the candidate come across as an odd and out of control.

"I think it is worse than Dukakis and the tank," Mr. Stevens said. "[In our anti-Dukakis tank ad] we used the tank as a metaphor to his being short on defense experience."

Mr. Stevens, 55, is an ex-newspaper reporter who became the campaign press secretary to Gerald Ford before turning to advertising under the tutelage of Roger Ailes, a former GOP ad executive who is now chairman-CEO of Fox News. Four years ago Mr. Stevens did the advertising for Arizona Sen. John McCain's presidential effort.

Is he ready to be President?
Mr. Stevens said if he were a Democratic candidate or running the current Bush campaign, he would quickly ready an anti-Dean TV ad with outtakes of the Iowa howling speech and the theme line "Is he ready to be president?"

The speech "really revealed his persona," Mr. Stevens said. "Were he to get the nomination, you could use it [as] a refrain for saying he wasn't fit."

Mr. Stevens said Dr. Dean's speech is worse than Mr. Dukakis's tank ride because the speech was far longer than the photo-op, allowing for more ads, and also because Mr. Dean was speaking, therefore demonstrating his professional capabilities.

"Here, it is his performance, who he is," Mr. Stevens said. "You'd have to connect it to that he isn't ready to be president and hasn't had the experience. But the growl -- he looked like a caged dog -- he just did not look like someone who we would want to entrust the presidency of the U.S. to. You don't expect to see that from the leader of the free world."

Dean campaign comment
Jay Carson, a national spokesman for the Dean campaign, said that if Republicans did what Mr. Stevens suggested, they would be ignoring the real issues of the campaign.

"If our opponents want to make a huge issue of this when 43 million people are without health care, 9 million people are unemployed and soldiers are dying in Iraq, let them go ahead," he said. "The governor is not a Washington politician. He speaks his mind and says what he thinks."

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